Lottery vs. Scratch Cards: Which Will Make You More Money?

When you walk into select stores or visit online lotteries, you are presented with several tickets, some are scratch-offs, and others are for lottery draws. Of course, before you choose which ticket to buy, you’ll want to know whether the lottery or the scratchers will make you more money.

You stand to make money with the lottery than with scratch cards. However, you will likely never win the lottery as the odds are astronomical. On the other hand, scratch card winnings are much lower but more frequent. Consequently, scratch cards will put more money in your pocket than the lottery.

To better explain why scratch cards will make you more money, this article details how each one of these games of chance work, the odds of winning each one, how much you stand to earn, and how you will get paid when you win.

How Does the Lottery Work?

How Does the Lottery Work?

In a lottery, you get two sets of numbers from which you can choose. For example, the first set may be 1 to 46, and the second set could be 1 to 25. The second set is always smaller and rarely exceeds 26.

From the first set, you can pick five numbers without repetition. From the second set, you pick just one number, which may also be one of the five you earlier selected. Alternatively, you can have a machine to generate random numbers for you.

After deciding, you are then to indicate your choice of numbers on a play slip, which you will submit to a lottery agent. The agent imputes your selection into an online terminal, which produces a lottery ticket for your slip.

Powerball and Mega Millions are the two biggest lotteries in the US, and both tickets cost $2. They serve as official receipts, which you must present for validation if you win.

Generally, lottery draws happen two times a week, typically on Saturdays and Wednesdays. During the draw, the lottery officials use a special machine loaded with balls that have all the numbers in both sets. Balls from the first set of numbers are usually colored white; the second set will have a color other than white.

The machine randomly shoots out five white balls and one other colored ball. You win the jackpot when all six numbers on your ticket are an exact match of those on the balls the machine put out, the order that they appear does not matter.

In the event that more than one person accurately predicts the winning numbers, the price will be split amongst the winners. If there is no winner, as is most often the case, the prize rolls over to the next draw, thus doubling the jackpot amount. Lured by the bigger jackpot, there will usually be an increase in the number of players in the next draw.

The Odds of Winning the Lottery

The Odds of Winning the Lottery

The odds of winning the lottery varies, it depends on the set of numbers the lottery company uses. Consequently, larger sets have lower odds of winning; in other words, you stand a better chance of winning in a set of 45 than a set of 70.

Powerball and Mega Millions use sets of 69 and 70 respectively for the white balls. Accordingly, you have a one in 292.2 million chance of winning the Powerball jackpot, slightly better than the one in 302.5 million chance of winning the Mega Millions jackpot.

Admittedly, the odds of winning the Powerball are slightly less unrealistic. Still, you are more likely to be struck by lightning or to be eaten by a shark than you are ever to win either one of these Jackpots.

However, jackpots are not the only prizes to be won in lotteries; there are about eight secondary prizes that you can win. You will get 1 million dollars if you pick the numbers on all five white balls, and at the lower end, you will earn $2 if you pick the number on the other colored ball (a one in 37 chance).

The Odds of Winning Any Prize in the Lotto

Overall odds of winning one of the nine prizes in a lottery stand at one-in-25 for Powerball and one-in-24 for Mega Millions, which means that for every 24/25 tickets you buy, one will likely be a winner.

To learn more about various lottery odds, check out our interactive lottery odds calculator.

How Lottery Winnings Are Paid

How Lottery Winnings Are Paid

In any lottery, the jackpot advertised is always an annuity amount. However, the lottery organizers specify the cash option amount as well. Thus, per adventure you win the grand prize, you can choose to be paid a lump sum or an annuity.

Cash Option or Lump Sum

The cash option is always smaller than the jackpot prize; it is the total amount available in the jackpot prize pool. In the case of Mega Millions and Powerball lotteries, comparing the two payment options reveals that the cash option is about 20% lesser than the jackpot prize.


Jackpot winners who choose the annuity option will get the entire amount advertised. However, the prize money will be spread over 30 payments, the winner gets an immediate payment and then yearly payments for the next 29 years. Each payment is 5% more than the previous one, top account for inflation.

Jackpot annuities are fixed annuities, meaning that should the winner die, the annuities will be transferred to his heirs.

How Scratch Cards Work

How Scratch Cards Work

Scratch cards, scratch-offs, or scratchers are another kind of game of chance, like the lottery, but much simpler and with instant winnings. As such, these scratch cards are also called instant games.

Scratch cards can have different themes and types of gameplay. Still, all scratch cards work in the same way; you win whatever is revealed after scratching off the silver portion.

Scratch Cards: Prize and Price

Generally, scratchcard prizes are nowhere as large as lottery jackpots. The winnings start at $1 and can run into millions.

Scratch cards are easy to get; they are available in most gas stations and convenience stores. While lottery tickets are fixed at $2, some scratch cards can sell for up to $100. The more expensive cards have bigger prizes.

Scratch Card Odds Are More Favorable

Scratch Card Odds Are More Favorable

Similar to lotteries, scratch cards have different odds, depending on the organizers. The odds are most times written on the card or the website of the organizers. Unlike lotteries, however, scratch card odds are more realistic, and are based on two factors:

  • The number of tickets printed
  • The number of prizes available to be won

Thus, if there are 8000 prizes available for 25000 scratch cards, the chance of winning any of the 8000 prizes is 3.125 (25000/8000).

Generally, the overall odds of winning an instant game prize falls between one-in-three and one-in-five. However, the odds of winning the top prize can reach up to one in a million.

Why Scratch Cards Will Make You More Money

Why Scratch Cards Will Make You More Money

The lottery will pay you more money than scratch cards, but that’s assuming that you ever win a lottery prize, as the overall odds of winning is one in 24. In comparison, and assuming a worst-case scenario, the overall odds of a scratch card is one in 12.

The lesser prizes are the easiest to win, which is true for both lotteries and scratch cards. You have a higher chance of getting one correct number out of six options than you do of getting all six. In the case of scratch cards, there are extremely few cards printed with the higher prizes and abundantly more cards printed with the lesser prizes. Consequently, most winning scratch cards will have lesser prizes.

When the overall odds of winning any prize in a lottery or scratch card is one-in-24 and one-in-12, respectively, it implies that you will likely win one of every 24 lottery tickets you buy and one of every 12 scratch cards you buy.

Recall that the lesser prizes of $2 are more easily attainable. As such, the one-in-24 and the one-in-12 chances of winning will likely be a $2 prize. It further implies that if you buy an equal number of lottery tickets and scratch cards, you will win doubly on scratch cards. This claim is illustrated below.

  • In 24 lottery tickets, you will likely win one = $2
  • In 24 scratch cards, you will likely win two (one in 12 and 1 in 12) = $4

The above shows that scratch card games pay out more, despite the smaller grand prizes.

How to Win More on Scratch Cards

How to Win More on Scratch Cards

While the one-in-three, one-in-four, one-in-five, and even one-in-12 overall odds on scratch cards are better than lotteries, it does not imply that you are guaranteed to win one out of every three, five or 12 scratch cards that you buy. The odds are simply probabilities, as scratch cards(and lotteries) are based on luck. Still, there are ways to improve your chances of winning each time you scratch a card.

Sticking to One Game Improves Your Chances of Winning

To illustrate this point, consider a hypothetical situation in which five different games have printed five hundred scratch cards each, and all games are priced the same and have equal odds.

If you buy a hundred cards of one game, there is a 20% probability that you will win big, especially if there is more than one top prize.

On the other hand, if you chose to buy twenty cards from all five games, you will still have bought a hundred tickets at the same price, and though the overall odds are equal, the probability that you will win a prize from these hundred cards is 5%.

Consequently, you are better served by channeling your resources into one game than spreading them across several games.

Buy Tickets in Bulk

When you play a scratch card game, two things can happen; you win, or you lose, and your chances of winning any prize depend on the overall odds on the card. It is uncommon to win two tickets in a row. Still, every roll of tickets will have some winners. Thus, buying in bulk increases your chances of getting a winning ticket, as every loss will bring you a step closer to a win. But when you get cards individually, you might end up losing on all of them.

Although bulk buying is encouraged, there may be times when you’re confident that the top prizes in a pack of tickets have been claimed. In such cases, it makes no sense to buy in bulk from that pack of tickets. Instead, wait a day or two, until you can get tickets from a new pack, one with yet unclaimed prizes.

Save Your Losing Tickets

Do not discard tickets, as frequently, there are second-chance drawings in which you can send in scratched tickets that weren’t winners. Needless to say that the more cards you enter into the draw, the higher your chances of winning. As such, keep all tickets on standby for when a second chance drawing may be announced.

Additionally, there is a chance, albeit a slim one, that some supposed non-winners were winners. Accordingly, when you collect your winnings, ask the lottery agent to recheck your tickets, as some scratch cards offer different ways to win that may be unknown to you.

Get an Online Account With the Local Lottery Organization

Get an Online Account With the Local Lottery Organization

While it is recommended to keep all losing cards, actually keeping them might prove difficult and inconveniencing. Registering online with the lottery organizers eliminates this problem. Some lotteries have apps for phones, so you can easily enter every ticket you buy to your online account, thus sparing you the need to hold on to the cards or worry about where to keep them.

In addition to being a convenient way of keeping tickets, having an online account might grant access to other contests online, and consequently, more opportunities to win.

Check the Available Prizes

Unfortunately, there is no law against selling scratch cards even after the top prizes have been won. Accordingly, before you buy scratch cards, check what rewards are still available.

Sometimes, the store may reveal this information, or it may not. The best way to find out what prizes are available is to check on the lottery’s website, as this is sure to have the latest information concerning any winnings and what rewards are still available.

If all the better prizes have been claimed, there is no need to buy more tickets. Instead, choose a different game with unclaimed prizes, or wait for a new game.

Note that some jurisdictions require the physical tickets when you redeem your prizes. As such, check the rules before discarding your tickets after entering them online.

The Waiting Game

It follows that after several losses, there will come a win, this is why you sometimes find people hanging around slot machines, waiting to play on the machine that has produced the longest streak of losses. The same applies to scratchers; after a series of losses, there is a greater chance that one of the next tickets will produce a win.

However, it may not be convenient to hang around a store, waiting for the right time to strike. Instead, you may ask the store owner or cashier about recent winnings.

Conversely, if there have been wins before you arrived, try another store or another game, as there are rarely more than one winning ticket in a row.

Understand the Prizes and the Odds

Most scratch cards will have the grand prize printed boldly on the card, which should be what you’re aiming to get. However, there are other prizes besides the grand prize, and they’re usually written on the back of the card, with the odds of winning them.

Naturally, the odds will improve as the prize value reduces. As such, you are more likely to win the lower valued prizes than the top prize. Thus compare the odds on different cards, and choose ones with favorable odds of winning the middle and top tier prizes, as even cards with equal overall odds may have different odds for the rewards available.

Note that some store owners may not permit you to turn the card over to compare the odds with other cards, but you can usually find this information online.

Set a Budget and Stick to It

Set a Budget and Stick to It

Before you walk into the store, determine how much you want to spend on scratch cards, and stick to it. The amount you choose should be one you can afford to lose.

Furthermore, always stick to your budget. Even when you win, resist the urge to spend your winnings on more scratch cards, in the hopes of getting another winning ticket.

Admittedly, budgeting does not improve your chances of winning, but it limits your losses.


While lotteries offer you the chance to win more money, you will likely never win, as the odds are vastly against you. On the other hand, scratch cards offer lesser prizes but with much better odds and, accordingly, earn you more money.

However, there is no guarantee that you will win on scratch cards (or lotteries), but with discipline and careful calculations, you can increase your chances of winning.